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$1 Million Reward Announced to Solve the 1980 Case of Maria James in Melbourne

Almost 44 years after Maria James’s brutal murder in her Melbourne bookshop, her two sons hope that an announcement of $1 million reward will finally unmask her killer. The case has remained unsolved since the fateful day of June 17, 1980, when James was found dead in a violent attack.

Case of Maria James in Melbourne

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Maria James was murdered on June 17, 1980. The crime occurred in her second-hand bookstore on High Street, Thornbury, in Melbourne’s north.

Maria James was found stabbed 68 times in the bedroom at the back of her shop, where she also lived with her two sons.

Maria James had planned to confront Father Anthony Bongiorno, a local Catholic priest regarding the sexual abuse of her younger son, Adam.

On the morning of her death, Maria James called her ex-husband, John, around 11:55 AM, leaving a message indicating that someone was in her shop. Shortly after, John called back, but Maria did not return to the phone.

John arrived at the shop around midday, finding both the front and back doors locked but the “open” sign displayed.

He forced his way inside to discover Maria’s body, with her hands bound and injuries to her head and face. Two witnesses later reported seeing a man fleeing the scene.

Maria James saw her sons off to school and had a conversation with her ex-husband during which she abruptly put him on hold.

Concerned by the sudden interruption, her ex-husband went to check on her, discovering her dead body after climbing through a side window of the bookshop.

Multiple individuals including a local real estate agent, a man known for selling pornography on High Street and a telecom worker, were initially considered suspects.

Two people reported seeing a man running away from the crime scene, described in a police sketch that has never led to an identification.

In 1982, the initial inquest concluded with an open finding, unable to identify the killer. In 2022, Coroner Caitlin English highlighted investigative errors but reaffirmed that Catholic priest Anthony Bongiorno and another person of interest, Peter Keogh, who had passed away.

In 2013, Maria James’s son Adam disclosed that he had been sexually abused by Father Anthony Bongiorno and had informed his mother about the abuse on the day she was murdered.

St. Mary’s Parish, where Bongiorno served was only about 50 meters from the bookshop. This proximity fueled suspicions regarding Bongiorno’s involvement.

A review in 2003 found that none of the suspects matched the DNA profile from the scene. In 2016, it was revealed that the pillowcase used for the DNA sample was unrelated to the case, casting doubt on previous suspect eliminations.

A witness came forward claiming to have seen Bongiorno with blood on his face and arm on the day of the murder, although this information was initially not linked to the case.

On June 14, 2024, Victoria Police announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the resolution of the case.

Dean Thomas acknowledged that while suspects had been identified, there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. He urged individuals with information, even about deceased suspects to come forward.

The murder occurred in a high-traffic area on High Street, making it puzzling that no conclusive eyewitnesses were found.

Authorities mapped potential routes the perpetrator might have taken on foot and by vehicle.

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For Maria James’s sons, Mark and Adam, the unresolved nature of the case has been a source of continuous trauma and distress. They hope that the reward will finally lead to the identification of their mother’s killer.

Maria’s sons, Mark and Adam James were aged 13 and 11 at the time of her death. Both sons have been persistent in seeking justice for their mother and hope that the reward will bring forward new information.

Father Anthony Bongiorno and Father Thomas O’Keeffe were implicated in the sexual abuse of Maria’s son, Adam.

Both priests have since died and the church has admitted and apologized for Bongiorno’s actions. Around the time of the murder, Bongiorno was seen covered in blood.

The investigation faced numerous errors including the disappearance of critical evidence such as Maria’s bloodied clothes and pillow slips.

A pillow from an unrelated crime scene was mistakenly included with Maria’s exhibits leading to the use of incorrect DNA evidence for 14 years.

Recent DNA testing on hairs found on Maria’s bed quilt was inconclusive. Advances in DNA technology are awaited to test further evidence such as the twine that bound Maria’s hands.

Detective Senior Constable Leigh Prados is leading the cold case and believes there are still witnesses who can provide crucial information.

Police continue to search their holdings for any missing evidence and are investigating links to other individuals such as the late killer Peter Keogh, who was convicted of a similar crime in 1987.

The $1 million reward will be paid at the discretion of the Chief Commissioner of Police. The reward is for information that leads to the conviction of those responsible for Maria James’s death.

The Director of Public Prosecutions will consider indemnification from prosecution for those who provide critical information.

Anyone with information about Maria James’s murder is urged to contact their local police station or call Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000. Confidential reports can also be submitted online to assist in the investigation.

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